It positively amazes me at how easily some of us give up when we are faced with solving a problem (or providing a service) that falls slightly out of bounds of our experience.

Case in point. I’ve been working with my guys to develop a couple of new prototypes: a woman’s moccasin and a dog leash. It’s been a month. I’ve been patient because I like these guys but yesterday, what they delivered was so sub-par that I was almost embarrassed for them. The dog leash looked like a fourth-grader’s work and the moccasin was vaporware. Their excuse was that they needed a better example. But what they really needed was for someone to show them how to do it. Shameful.

I am thinking, ‘It’s a shoe. You make shoes. And this is just another shoe. A shoe with some woven leather. Okay, the woven leather is different from what you’ve done in the past but it’s still just a shoe with some woven leather.’ Damn. I am thinking, ‘Your designer should quit deluding himself that he is a designer.’ Maybe he should just kill himself because he’s useless. We’re not genning up the stuxnet virus here. And he’s certainly not a shoe designer if he can’t reverse engineer a pair of shoes.

Contrast this to Sebastian. To begin that story I had a minor epiphany this morning on the way to the Mercado for breakfast. ‘All problems are solvable. All.’ And the solution to this problem concerning my moccasin design was to find another designer. After breakfast I walked back to my house. Then I walked one block over and two blocks up and showed Sebastian my sketch and a photograph. He shrugged, ‘Sure, no problem.’ We went into his small warehouse and I choose a soft yellow leather for the lining and a navy blue leather for the woven outside. I said that I wanted just a planta (innersole) double-lock stitched to an airplane tire sole. He shrugged, ‘When do you want it?’

And here’s another example of proficiency. Yesterday morning I read quite possibly one of the finest examples of technical writing that I have ever seen in my life. My colleague, Bob – to whom I am doing some engineering subcontracting – not just wrote this brilliant document but in the doing had to decipher a rat’s nest of government project documents to arrive [finally] at the impossible locus of clarity that was positively blinding in its simplicity.

I have long been a disciple for years to the rational approach to problem solving. Like Occam’s razor. Or Tufte’s “Good design is clear thinking made visible.” Or others who have said that to solve a seemingly impossible big problem means breaking it down into smaller, solvable problems.

And Bob did just that. He applied the principles of what I believe to be an old Asian saying that says ‘to define something is to limit it.’ That is by putting boundaries around things – or choose your own metaphor – but I’ll say that by putting the appropriate things in the right buckets; compartmentalizing every piece of information that you’re given until when it’s all done you’ve effectively said what something is (aka defined it) and in the doing you’ve also said what it isn’t (or limited it).

Specifically, he created geographical domains out of what was previously just a bunch of abstractions. He also took both disparate and overlapping system’s elements and created several cohesive work models. And for the last boundary he created an appendix (a bucket) of Documents Reviewed. Few do this anymore, but old-timers – legacy – ‘good’ engineering documents [must] site source documents. It has been my experience that for every year further down the road, the more valuable a section/appendix like this becomes. Without source documents how would future readers ever know what the design starting point was?

Years ago when I was testing (both hardware and software) systems for a living there was a saying, “If you didn’t write it down you didn’t do it.” And if your results weren’t reproducible then there was a flaw in your methodology.

It doesn’t matter to me what you look like. It doesn’t matter to me where you’re from. I don’t care where you went to school or if you even went to school. And I am never going to discriminate on race, sex, or your political preferences. I don’t even care where you are on the socio-economic ladder or what your occupation is.

There is one and only one thing that pisses me off anymore and that is do your job. As far as I am concerned if you don’t do your job then you are worthless. And in my opinion the world would be a better place without you.

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